(Meet Julie Farman, who writes about what she watches with XFINITY On Demand, and why – an ongoing series we call Julie On Demand.)
I don’t like the holidays. From the second week of November through January 2, I’m distinctly
unjolly; the only thing that irritates me more than Christmas is Christmas cheer. I classify it as a disease.
Thankfully, it’s not contagious; well-meaning people have been unsuccessfully trying to give it to me for years. Invariably, a perky friend will invite me over on Christmas Eve to join his or her family for It’s A Wonderful Life, and, even though I’m very polite in declining, I’ll be accused of Scrooge-like or anti-social behavior. This is unfair. It’s not like I say I’d rather poke out my eyes with mistletoe. Which I would.
I might be able to work up some spirit if the invitation was to watch something other than It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle On 34th Street. Both of them were released in 1947, and, while I’m sure they’re fine films, they were made before I was born and I didn’t grow up watching them. If I’m going to indulge in Christmas Eve nostalgia, I’d rather indulge in something I’m actually nostalgic for: classic TV.
I grew up Jewish in a Christian town, and the holidays were hard. While everyone else was celebrating Christmas, we were celebrating Chanukah, and, despite eight nights of presents, I felt like I was getting gypped.
My parents lovingly attempted to soothe our small Jewish souls with stockings, but they didn’t quite get it; my friends got marshmallow Santas and blonde-haired Barbies in festive stockings, and my sister and I got chocolate Matzo and Bat Mitzvah study guides in knee socks. I was alienated before I even knew what alienated meant, and I found solace in the sitcoms of the 60s and 70s.
Every program had an obligatory Christmas episode, but it was ok: they were funny, not sentimental, and they clocked in at 60 minutes or less. As a child, I learned to avoid any show that was described as a “very special episode” or involved the phrase “discovers the true meaning of Christmas,” and, as a child, I made it through the holidays based on selective viewing and a black and white television.
As an adult, I’m still looking to soothe my Jewish soul, but it no longer requires a bunny ear antenna and flipping through channels. I’ve got Xfinity on Demand, and I watch it online.
In the last 10 days, I’ve watch the episode of I Love Lucy where Little Ricky asks tricky questions about Santa five times, and I’ve chased it five times with The Dick Van Dyke Christmas Show-Within-A-Show.
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And, even though it veers dangerously close to being both Very Special and expressing a bottom-line message of the “true meaning of Christmas,” I can’t get enough of the Brady Bunch. (In the Christmas episode, Mrs. Brady comes down with a case of laryngitis just before she’s supposed to sing a solo at church, and Cindy asks Santa for just one gift, which is, of course, that her mother gets her voice back.)
But, if I had to choose only one show that I couldn’t live without during the holiday season, it’d be Mary Tyler Moore. As much as I loved Lucy and the entire Brady Bunch, I loved Mary Richards best. In 1972, when most of the women on television were housewives, mothers and sexy consorts, Mary was a career girl, working even on Christmas in the trenches of the WGN newsroom.
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Watching Mary Tyler Moore wasn’t just about escaping the holidays, it was about imagining myself as a grown-up – a female one — with a cool-ass job. Mary was competent, whip-smart, and well-adjusted, and, in a spectacular twist, she had a Jewish best friend. (That’d be Rhoda, of course, who had a show of her own years later, complete with a Very Special episode about Chanukah.)
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These days, I’m less traumatized by the holidays. On Christmas Eve, I’ll be glued to my computer and my favorite classic sitcoms, but on Christmas Day, rather than transporting myself to a different world, I’ll be sticking with this one and going to a friend’s.
I’m even looking forward to it: we’ll be watching a movie, but it won’t be Miracle On 34th Street. On December 25th, we’re watching Pulp Fiction (you can watch the movie, too, on TV, online, and on your iPhone or Android smartphone and tablet with the XFINITY TV Player app). It’ll be Very Special. Pulp Fiction may not have a laugh track, but it isn’t about the True Meaning Of Christmas, and, for me, that’s a reason to celebrate.